Organs of distinction  JohnPage, Organ Builder



Restoration of the ex-Irvin's Marenghi

Reed pipes


An on-going job at home was the restoration of the reed pipes - or more accurately, their boots. Flue pipes have feet to stand on, but the reeds have boots. Above is shown the largest and smallest boots, pictured with the same coin.

"Boot" is the name given to the cover for the "works" of a reed pipe, (the resonators above serving to help shape the tone and stabilise tuning) and "boot" is also used for the whole assembly, which includes a block into which is mounted a shallot and tongue anchored by a wedge, and a tuning spring fitted through a hole in the block. This spring is moved up or down to vary the vibrating length of the tongue to tune the pipe. The springs on most of the reeds in this organ were still the original steel, which was very rusty, so I needed to make new ones in phosphor bronze. A few were already in PB but wrongly shaped. They need a good spring action to maintain contact with the tongues at all times and hold them against their shallots. At the same time they must be able to move freely when tuning and not build up a tension which could work its way out later and spoil the tuning.

Some shallots are leathered (for a smoother tone), and those were inspected first. There's no point in removing perfectly good leather here, as it's not required to move. A few needed renewing but most had hardly deteriorated in the last 20 years - they were all done in 1983. A few of the tongues were noticeably wrongly curved, but this job was left for later when the pipes coud be placed on their chests together with their flue helpers. They would then receive the correct pressure, a very important criteria for reeds.

Reed resonators are merely open tubes of various shapes, according to the type of sound required. They all needed their own special kind of attention. The trombones (longest one shown), the largest in to organ, needed checking for splits in their mitred joints. This is a common problem in trombones, as they are bracketed to the organ's roof and any movement in the case when on the road could cause these joints to split. Sure enough, this had happened on several of the pipes. These mitres needed to be fully taken apart so I could get to the joints properly and glue them back together. Clamping them is difficult due to the angles and convolutions.

The box reed resonators (saxophones, baritones, clarinets, and bass and accompaniment reeds in the back of the organ) all needed treatment. They are fitted with metal regulating slides, most of which needed replacing. The others were polished. They all needed to be specially shaped to keep their positions without slipping down and spoiling the tuning and regulation. A reed resonator is tuned to the pipe's pitch to aid the tongue itself. The timbre of the pipe can be adjusted by varying the resonator length in relation to the optimum. This is where the slide comes in, and should only be moved to set the timbre, the actual tuning being set by moving the spring. Trumpet resonators cannot be altered in this way.

Resonators of all the reeds showing at the front of the organ were painted in the colours last used when in the Irvin ownership, except the box reed fronts, which were gilded by Colin Dundas, who had been engaged to take care of the decoration of the façade. However, the resonators sat in his workshop for several months before he got round to them. He began work on the baritone case first (a full 15 months after being given the job), as I would need that to re-assemble the glockenspiel.

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